He intentionally fired into the air, but his political rival, Vice President Aaron Burr, took deadly aim and fatally shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel July 11, 1804.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies on the Island of Nevis, either in the year 1755 or 1757, and grew up on the Island of St. Croix. Just a few years earlier, in 1751, 19-year-old George Washington had accompanied his older half-brother Lawrence on a trip to the nearby Island of Barbados. Since Alexander Hamilton’s parents were not legally married, he was not permitted to attend the Anglican academy, resulting in him being tutored at a private school by a Jewish headmistress.
Hamilton worked for merchants until, at the age of 17, he sailed to Massachusetts in 1772 to attend Elizabethtown Academy. He was studying at Columbia College in New York when the Revolutionary War started.
Alexander Hamilton fought in the Battle of White Plains and the Battle of Trenton. He served four years as aide-de-camp to General George Washington. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, Alexander Hamilton led a bayonet attack at night capturing Redoubt No. 10 which helped the Continental Army win the Battle of Yorktown, Oct. 19, 1781.
During the Revolution, Alexander Hamilton wrote “The Farmer Refuted,” Feb. 23, 1775, stating: “The Supreme Being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beautifying that existence … and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty and personal safety. …”
Hamilton continued: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power. …”
Hamilton concluded: “Good and wise men, in all ages … have supposed that the Deity, from the relations we stand in to Himself, and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind. … This is what is called the law of nature … dictated by God himself.”
In 1781, Hamilton helped Robert Morris start the Bank of North America, the first private commercial bank in the United States, to bring stability to the nation’s finances after the fiat Continental currency became worthless, as the saying went, “not worth a continental.”
Alexander Hamilton helped write the U.S. Constitution. He stated at the Constitutional Convention, June 22, 1787: “Take mankind as they are, and what are they governed by? Their passions. There may be in every government a few choice spirits, who may act from more worthy motives. One great error is that we suppose mankind is more honest that they are.”
After the Constitution was written, Hamilton helped convinced the states to ratify it by writing the Federalist Papers with James Madison and John Jay. Of the 85 Federalist Papers, Hamilton wrote 51.
Alexander Hamilton wrote of the Constitution in his “Letters of Caesar,” 1787: “Whether the New Constitution, if adopted, will prove adequate to such desirable ends, time, the mother of events, will show. For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which, without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.” (Ford, Paul L., Essays on the Constitution of the United States, Historical Printing Club, Brooklyn, 1892, pg 245).
In 1789, Alexander Hamilton became the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury – his statue is at the south entrance of the Treasury building in Washington, D.C. In 1790, Hamilton proposed the the First Bank of the United States to assume the states’ Revolutionary War debt, to establish a mint and to impose a federal excise tax.
In 1790, Hamilton pushed Congress to have ships, called Revenue Cutters, to collect revenue, confiscate contraband and guard the coasts from piracy, thus beginning of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Opposed to slavery, Hamilton and John Jay founded the New York Manumission Society which successfully helped pass legislation in 1799 to end New York’s involvement in the slave trade.
In 1799, after the death of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton served as Senior Officer of the United States Army during a threatened war with France.
Hamilton condemned the French Revolution’s attempt to overthrow Christianity: “(depriving) mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes, and to make a gloomy desert of the universe. … The praise of a civilized world is justly due to Christianity; – war, by the influence of the humane principles of that religion, has been stripped of half its horrors. The French renounce Christianity, and they relapse into barbarism; – war resumes the same hideous and savage form which it wore in the ages of Gothic and Roman violence.”
Hamilton wrote: “Facts, numerous and unequivocal, demonstrate that the present era is among the most extraordinary which have occurred in the history of human affairs. Opinions, for a long time, have been gradually gaining ground, which threaten the foundations of religion, morality, and society. An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute. The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of god, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished.” (Lodge, Henry Cabot, “The Works of Alexander Hamilton,” vol. 8, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1904, pg 425-426.)
Hamilton began organizing the Christian Constitutional Society, writing to James Bayard, April 16, 1802: “Let an association be formed to be denominated ‘The Christian Constitutional Society,’ its object to be first: The support of Christian religion; second: The support of the United States.”
Hamilton, back in 1775, had quoted Sir William Blackstone that the Law of Nature was “dictated by God himself,” and in 1798, he had written: “Americans rouse – be unanimous, be virtuous, be firm, exert your courage, trust in Heaven, and nobly defy the enemies both of God and man!” (Hamilton, John C., “The Works of Alexander Hamilton,” vol. 7, John F. Trow, New York, 1851, pg 676.)
In 1780, Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, the daughter of Revolutionary War General Philip Schuyler who had served in the Continental Congress. Elizabeth co-founded New York City’s first private orphanage.
General Philip Schuyler became the first U.S. Senator from New York, but was defeated for re-election by Aaron Burr. Aaron Burr had fought in the Revolution, was elected to the New York State Assembly, 1784-1785, and was appointed New York State Attorney General. In 1791, Burr was elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating General Philip Schuyler.
In 1796, Burr lost in his bid to become the president of the United States, running against both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Originally, in presidential elections, the candidate receiving the most electoral votes was elected president, and the candidate receiving the second most votes was elected vice president.
Despite George Washington’s warning over the divisive “danger of Parties,” Hamilton organized the first political party, the “Federalists,” followed by Jefferson organizing the second political party of anti-Federalists, eventually called “Democratic-Republicans.”
Federalists wanted a stronger centralized government to insure a stable currency and provide better national defense; and the anti-Federalist Democratic-Republicans wanted a weaker centralized government to prevent a repeat of the abuse of power experienced under King George III.
In a shift of allegiances during the presidential election of 1800, Alexander Hamilton was instrumental in helping Thomas Jefferson be elected U.S. president over Aaron Burr, who then became vice president. In the 1804 election, Alexander Hamilton threatened to withdraw from the Federalist Party if it chose Vice President Aaron Burr as its presidential candidate. Aaron Burr was responsible for turning the social club Tammany Hall, named for the Lanape Indian Chief Tamanend, into the infamous New York political machine.
New York badly needed a clean water supply to prevent malaria outbreaks. Under the pretense of establishing a water company, Aaron Burr solicited investors but secretly changed the company’s charter to found the Bank of the Manhattan Company in 1799. The Bank was later absorbed into the JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank.
In response, Alexander Hamilton founded the Bank of New York in 1784. When Aaron Burr later ran for governor of New York, Alexander Hamilton’s influence again led to his defeat.
Hamilton considered Burr a political opportunist, declaring: “I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career.”
Aaron Burr took offense and challenged Hamilton to a duel. Considered the most famous duel in American history, they met on the morning of July 11, 1804, at the dueling grounds near Weehawken, New Jersey. Burr shot and mortally wounding Hamilton in the stomach.
Hamilton requested Episcopal minister Dr. John Mason give him the Lord’s Supper, but Dr. Mason refused as his church principle was to “never to administer the Lord’s Supper privately to any person under any circumstances.”
Dr. Mason did, though, affirm that the Lord’s Supper was not a requirement for salvation, to which Hamilton replied his request was a testimony of his faith: “I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The duel ended Hamilton’s life and ended Burr’s career.
Ironically, at that same place three years earlier, Alexander Hamilton’s son Philip Hamilton was killed in a duel with George Eacker, Nov. 22, 1801. Philip was defending his father’s honor after Eacker, a supporter of Jefferson, had denigrated him in a speech at Columbia University. The two had run into each other outside a play at New York’s Park Theater, resulting in a hostile, screaming confrontation, and the challenge of a duel.
Aaron Burr was immediately ostracized from American politics. A few years later, Burr contrived of a plan to take control over part of the Louisiana Territory and Mexico. When his plan came to light, Burr was indicted on charges of conspiracy and treason in 1807. He fled the United States in 1808 and lived in Europe for several years.
Burr was mentioned in a negative light in the popular 1863 novel, “The Man Without a Country,” written by Edward Everett Hale. In the novel, the fictitious unpatriotic protagonist, Philip Nolan, had developed a friendship with the traitorous Aaron Burr.
Alexander Hamilton had previously warned: “Liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race. … Civil liberty … cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice.”
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